October 6th, 2015

Garbage Disposals Care

Home Owners Network

Disposals are handy devices.  Yours should last between eight and twelve years if you take good care of it.  Here are some tips for taking care of your disposal and what to do if it acts up.

Using a Disposal

DO put soft food materials in the disposal.  Cut anything you put in the disposal into small pieces.  If the longest dimension is too big to fit through the opening, it’s probably too big and needs to be cut.

DON’T put hard or stringy materials in the disposal.  This includes bones, seafood shells, un-popped popcorn, banana peels, celery, hard fruit pits (peaches, avocados) corn cobs and corn husks, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and tea bags.  Don’t pour grease in the disposal either.  If you must pour grease in the disposal, run hot water while you’re pouring.

DON’T put starchy foods in the disposal.  This includes potatoes and pasta.

DON’T put non-food materials in the disposal.  This includes material like cigarettes, flowers and plants, string, hair, and any hard or soft trash.

DO run cold water during and after running the disposal.  Cold water helps cool the disposal and flush the material through the unit.  Hot water can cause the unit to overheat.  Run the cold water for about 15-30 seconds after you turn off the disposal.

DON’T leave food in the disposal; run it every time you put something in.  Leaving food in the disposal will cause rust and deterioration that will reduce your disposal’s life.

DO clean both sides of the rubber guard at the opening at least a few times each year.  A little dishwashing detergent and a paper towel will suffice.

DO put citrus peals down the disposal to help keep odors in check.  Cut the peals into small pieces.  A half of a lemon or lime can jamb the disposal.  Vinegar works well for this too.  Try freezing some in an ice cube tray.

 Garbage Disposal ImageDisposal Problems

 PROBLEM:  no sound If your disposal is plugged in to a receptacle, make sure that it’s plugged in.  Next, try pushing the red reset button.  It’s on the bottom of most disposals.  If it still doesn’t work, check the circuit breaker or fuse.  Reset the circuit breaker or replace the fuse if necessary.  If none of these work, have a plumber evaluate the situation.

PROBLEM:  humming sound, but no movement.  The disposal is probably jammed.  Many disposals come with a hex (Allen) wrench for clearing jambs.  It’s usually a ¼ inch wrench.  Get one at a hardware store if you’ve lost yours and don’t have one in your tool kit.  Check your disposal; not all disposals use the same size wrench.  Insert the wrench in the hole on the bottom of the disposal and turn either direction until you can move the wrench easily.  If you can’t turn the wrench, the disposal may need replacement.

PROBLEM:  loud noise.  Something hard is in the disposal and will need to be removed.  First, shut off power at the circuit breaker or fuse or unplug the disposal.  Next, remove the rubber guard, if possible.  Carefully place your hand in the disposal and remove the hard items.  Note:  this procedure has a risk of serious injury so be very careful to make sure nobody can turn on the disposal while your hand is inside.

PROBLEM:  no water flow, disposal is clogged.  If there’s too much material in the disposal, remove it by following the procedure for loud noise.  If the disposal appears empty, the blockage is further down the line.  Try filling the sink with water (a few inches will do) and using a plunger to clear the blockage.  If that doesn’t work, it may be necessary to clean the trap or snake the pipe to clear the blockage.  This may be a job for a plumber unless you’re reasonably handy.

PROBLEM:  waste spurts out the other sink.  The disposal is incorrectly installed.  There are several possible installation errors that could cause this problem.  You will probably need a plumber to evaluate and correct the situation.

PROBLEM:  leaks and water stains.  If the leak or water stain is near the sink or plumbing connections, the cure is usually to secure the connections or replace deteriorated gaskets or plumber’s putty.  If the leak or water stain is at the lower part of the disposal, the internal gasket is probably deteriorated.  You should replace the disposal.

Disposals and Septic Systems

Do not use a disposal if you have a septic system.  The additional solid waste will, at best, mean that you will need to have your tank pumped more often.  At worst, the solid waste will find its way into the drain field and block the field pipes.  Blocked drain field pipes are a major expense.  Even if there is a disposal installed when you moved in, it’s best to remove it.

Which Disposal?

A basic ½ hp disposal will suffice for virtually all homes.  We usually don’t recommend specific components, but in this case it’s hard to go wrong with the Insinkerator Badger 5.  This model has been around for years and is one of the top selling disposals around.

The Bottom Line

Disposals are convenient, but they add a lot of solid waste to the sewer system.  A few communities have banned them in new construction for that reason.  Much of what we feed disposals makes excellent compost.  Even if you don’t want to make a formal compost bin, putting soft leafy material, coffee grounds, and egg shells in a small hole in the back yard will yield some good soil and divert some of the solid waste stream.

We’re here to help at Home Owner’s Network.  Use our ‘Ask the Experts’ service if you need help.  Please include as many details as possible about your situation so we can provide you with our best advice.

If you need a qualified technician to help you, try our ‘Find a Contractor’ referral service.  Log on to your Home Owner’s Network account to access the ‘Find a Contractor’ page.

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